Malabar Muslims or Mapillas better known as Malabaris in Malaysia are Muslims originating from the narrow belt along the southwest coast of India , identified with the present State of Kerala. Majority of these people come from the northern region of this State , known as Malabar.
“Mapilla” is the transliteration of a Malayalam word which has taken many different forms the most common being mapilla, mappilla and Mopla. The origin of the term is not traced but it appears to be a title of respect, applied by the natives of Kerala to respect and welcome visitors and immigrants from abroad. The current meaning ‘new husband’ or ‘bridegroom’, the usage of which may be based on the word ‘Maha Pilla’ (Great Child) thus honouring him and accepting him into the family.
The early wave of people who migrated to Malaysia from Kerala were mostly Muslims. Most of them were involved in trade while some others was involved in construction. There was also a large Muslim population believed to have migrated, during the agrarian unrest in Kerala in 1921, the mappila rebellion. This may be the reason why the term Malabari is used in reference to the Muslims in Malaysia . Those who settled down here held on to the term Malabari though it was becoming obsolete in Kerala. Over the generation the term Malabari came to mean the Muslim who can trace their origin back to Kerala. Persatuan Malabari Malaysia for example, goes without saying , is an association of malayalee muslims in Malaysia
The issues on how the term Malabari was previously used in Kerala is a history, by knowing it we understand how the term came about and why there are conflicting meanings attached to it. It is a term now, evolved in Malaysia- to mean Muslims with roots from the ancient area of Malabar, the ‘malayalam speaking hilly coastal area’, ie. Kerala . Thus the term ‘malabari’ in Malaysia is how we choose to be known, here and now. The term Malabari is thus now truely Malaysian….